United Airlines continues to be troubled with the same aircraft that suffered smoke in the cockpit, which resulted in another United Hawaii flight diversion. Today the aircraft has gone mechanical and is seriously delayed from leaving San Franciso to Maui—hat tip to visitor Don, who is on the plane and informed us of the problem today. When we looked at the situation a bit more closely, it was even more interesting than that.
This delay points out a couple of things. First, we continue to say that United’s aging fleet, older than its competitors, is a source of problems. That is compounded by supply chain issues that airlines are still encountering with parts that further complicate any needed repairs. Then include that the airlines need every plane they have to meet the challenging summer schedule. Otherwise, since San Francisco is a large United Airlines hub with over 40 gates, they could have provided an alternative aircraft for the 5-hour flight to Kahului.
FlightAware indicated first that United 1273 was scheduled to depart approximately 8-1/2 hours later than expected. It was due to depart at 9:05 am. As we were writing, the airline updated the departure to bring it to a 3-1/2 hour delay, scheduled to leave at 12:37 pm. Then later, it switched back to the prior 8-1/2 hour delay. It isn’t clear if the airline might be changing aircraft to accomplish that flight, as it hasn’t been indicated, although we suspect that is one possibility.
Last week’s same United smoke-in-cabin plane was flying to Maui today.
The aircraft scheduled to fly the route is last week’s troubled N779UA. It is a Boeing 777-200 and is 27 years old, which started flying in 1996. This is the same plane that departed Los Angeles for Hawaii just five days ago and was only in the air for less than one hour when it diverted back to LAX. That was due to a reported smoke-in-cabin situation with 370 crew and passengers aboard.
As the airplane climbed out of Los Angeles, the flight crew suddenly stopped the climb at about 5,000 ft due to smoke on the flight deck. About 30 minutes later, the plane was safely back at LAX on runway 25L. After about seven hours, another aircraft arrived to continue the flight. The plane returned to flight three days later, but not for long.
United has the oldest fleet of any US airline.
United Airlines has over 903 aircraft, making it the world’s third-largest airline fleet. It operates a myriad of Airbus and Boeing narrow-body aircraft and now flies an all-Boeing widebody fleet. The average age of all its planes is just under 17 years. While that doesn’t seem old, it has a combination of old planes from the 1990s, as well as far newer planes, including their Boeing 787 Dreamliner fleet and the Boeing 737 Max fleet.
How old are the different airline fleets flying to Hawaii?
By comparison, Delta Airlines’ nearly 1,000 fleet is, on average, 15 years old, while American’s same size fleet is just under 14 years. Hawaiian Air’s tiny-by-comparison 65-plane fleet averages just over 12 years, Southwest’s more than 800-plane fleet is just under 12 years old, and Alaska’s 300-plane fleet averages just over 10 years.
United has hundreds of planes on order and option, including 15 Boom Overturner supersonic aircraft due to be delivered before the decade’s end.
United recently announced a 200-widebody plane order.
In December, UAL confirmed the purchase of 100 new Dreamliners (787 -8, -9, and -10), with options for 100 more. That’s the largest widebody order ever by a U.S. airline. In total, United plans to take delivery of 700 new planes in less than a decade.
United also exercised options to purchase 44 Boeing 737 MAX aircraft for delivery between 2024 and 2026 – consistent with the United Next 2026 capacity plan – and ordered 56 more MAX aircraft for delivery between 2027 and 2028.
The airline expects to receive about 700 new narrow and widebody aircraft by the end of 2032, including an average of more than two every week in 2023 and more than three every week in 2024.
The new planes will, according to United, “Replace older Boeing 767 and Boeing 777 aircraft, with all 767 aircraft removed from the United fleet by 2030.”